Right now, you can visit an exhibition of etchings and aquatints from the series Los Caprichos, The Disasters of War, La Tauromaquia y Los Disparates as well as their master plates, which is open at the San Fernando’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes. Looking at these works helps us to understand one of the greatest painters of all time, precursor of the European avant-garde and of the painting techniques used in 20th-century art. As a complementary activity, Calcografía Nacional opens, until September 9, an exhibition that analyzes the relation between the faces painted by the artist and several physiognomy treatises from the time.
Goya Fisionomista (Goya, the Physiognomist)
Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) was keen student of his own time. He knew that for him to paint well, he needed to ponder a lot. He was aware of the nobility of his work as an artist and the responsibility he took as a painter of his time and chronicler of an age. Goya lived in the Royal Court; he had good relations with the powerful and knew about their vileness and corruption. He was a witness of the changes of an era: the Enlightenment, the political and military unrest (Napoleon’s conquering imperialism), the birth of the Spanish Constitution (the Cortes of Cadiz), the antecedents of the Industrial Revolution, and the beginnings of great scientists and technicians.
This artist was one of the forerunners of the propagandistic use of graphic images. He self-financed the publication of Los Caprichos (1797-1799), his first etchings. In them, he put himself in risk of being denounced and imprisoned by publicly exposing the excesses of opulence, the enjoyment powerful people found in common people’s ignorance, and the cynical way in which the servants of the Church lived.
Goya painted with intense emotionality because what he truly wanted to capture were the expressions conveyed by the characters he portraited. Through brutal, animal, sick, and degrated faces, he talks to us about the pain and frustration that the pompous world produces him, and about the sadness of Spain’s lack of quality and ambition.
In his prints, Goya shows a language that doesn’t leave room for doubts: through the use of written titles that guide us, a dramatic and unsettling light (heritage of Rembrandt’s work), and incredibly expressive and histrionic faces, Goya communicates directly with the people, the main addressee of his message.
The Sleep of the Reason Produces Monsters, Capricho No. 43, is an etching that makes us think about the desperation of an artist witnessing a society without possible redemption. There’s no cure for the deep pain of a soul as Enlightenment values don’t settle in, rejected by the prejudice of people. Reason can’t be the light that brightens the gloom of your sorrow, and there’s nothing to make this more bearable. The only thing left for Goya is his art and its capacity to change us. Goya communicates through the emotional impact of his work, inviting us to think, and he does it in a very modern way by taking a step forward with his art and provoking introspection through it.
Goya’s Etchings to Me
This week our workshop will revolve around a visit to the exhibition and a discussion about what Goya tells about himself through his work. On the topic of this announced visit, I must confess that once I enter the room where his etchings and master plates are exhibited, it becomes difficult for me to leave. Being able to see his work from two different points of view, positive and negative images, and to follow the trace of his “scratching” in the plates deeply moves me as it helps me to get a better understanding of the way he worked.
Ecstatic contemplation that is going to be interrupted by a kind reminder: “Miss, we’re sorry, but you have to leave the room. The museum is closing.”